Guest Post: Life on a benefit

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Life on a benefit, or pension is tough.

People of the rightwing persuasion think they know all about living on a low, fixed income. It is easy to sit in your Eastborne home, dabbling in painting, and thinking you know everything that should be done to the poor, isn’t it Lindsay Mitchell?

Or to sit on your wobble butt in Parliament, pocketing a six-figure ministerial salary, swanning around in your gas guzzler and declaring that because you “made  it” everyone else should make it, too, even though you’ve taken away most of the stuff which helped you to get along. Isn’t it, Paula Bennett?

Or to regale the masses with stories of about how your mother lived in a state house, but you rose to be a millionaire Prime Minister. Isn’t it Mr Key?

The people who know about living on a benefit are the beneficiaries themselves. I’m one and have been for a couple of years. I worked all my life. That I am on welfare is not my fault and I don’t like being there.

I don’t like not being able to live like other people just because I am sick. I don’t like not being able to take my wife for a night out or enjoy a movie or a drink. I don’t like being stuck at home because I have no money for petrol. I don’t like eating baked beans because I have no cash for food.

I can hear the righties now: Stop whining, get off your bum, be grateful that WE look after you……if that is your only response, don’t  bother, I’ve already heard it before.

Not only have I been a beneficiary, but I have also worked with beneficiaries as a budget adviser and food bank co-ordinator. So I think I know what I am talking about.

My experience is that beneficiaries are often the best budgeters of all. They have to be.

Every dollar, every cent, is stretched to breaking point. So are your nerves and your patience when you heard words like ”bludger” from people who should know better, but don’t.

Keeping the dole low might have some justification if you KNOW people on the dole don’t want to work.

PS: If you want to tell me about the dole bludger down the road who spends his life surfing on the taxpayer, or the solo Mum who keeps having kids to stay on the DPB, I’ve heard it all before and I’m not interested. I want solutions, please, not third hand stories about your uncle’s cousin’s mother-in-law’s next door neighbour’s  grandson. I don’t care, Okay?

But there is no justification in treating invalids as if they have no value. And that’s what governments in both NZ and Australia do, Labor, Labour, Liberal or National. They are all the same. It is not good enough and it has to stop.

A benefit gives you just enough to survive on. I use that word deliberately. Starving is not living.

As NZers living on the benefit in Australia we receive income from Centrelink every fortnight and from WINZ once a month. The WINZ payment has to be converted to $AUS. Sometimes this benefits us with a few dollars extra.

When that happens, Centrelink reduces our income to compensate. But do they do the opposite thing if the conversion rate works against us? Oh, dear me no.

For luxuries we have Austar, the cheapest possible package. Beats staring at the walls when you can’t go anywhere because the gas tank is empty.

I know a few pensioners in Australia and they admit what they do to make ends meet. They shoplift from supermarkets.

Oh, dear, I can hear the righteous right clacking their dentures already.

I don’t condone theft, but I do understand it. One of my mates has a wife who was recently told she was deficient in Vitamin D. Her doctor did not advise sitting in the sun, the strongest on earth, and recommended using Vitamin tablets.

Yeah, right, at 50c each! So my mate sneaks along the supermarket aisle, waits till no-one is looking, grabs a packet and sticks it in his pocket.

He isn’t proud of what he does, but is not ashamed, either. He does it to survive.

So if you want to know what it is like on a pension or a benefit ask the people who know. Tell Lindsay Mitchell, Paula Bennett and John Key to go stuff themselves.

Personally I see little difference between condoning something and saying you understand it in a sympathetic tone.  It’s like the person saying “I don’t condone domestic violence, but boy does that sheila get naggy, and it is the only way to make her listen”.

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